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UK Social workers: working conditions and wellbeing August 2018

Authors: Dr Jermaine Ravalier and Dr Charlotte Boichat

The 2017 ‘Working Conditions and Stress’ report demonstrated that, compared to the national average, UK social workers are exposed to chronically poor working conditions. These working conditions were subsequently influencing numerous outcomes including high levels of dissatisfaction in the role, high levels of presenteeism (i.e. attending work while ill enough that they should be taking sick leave), and high levels of turnover intentions.

It is widely accepted that chronic exposure to stress in the workplace can have significant and serious impacts on employee health. For example, researchers have demonstrated that chronic stress can impact physiological, psychological, and behavioural health. Stress and mental health are therefore the number one cause of long-term sickness absence (i.e. that which lasts 4 weeks or more) in the UK, and number two behind colds/flu for shorter-term absences). Stress therefore not only affects individual employees, but subsequently their employing organisations. For example, stress accounted for over 11 million working days lost in 2016, accounting for 24 days per employee per episode. Other individual/organisational impacts of stress include poorer job satisfaction, higher intentions to leave the job, and increased levels of presenteeism.

The main objective of this report is to identify what working conditions are like for UK social workers in 2018, and the influence that these have on stress. Furthermore – and perhaps most importantly – we will look at what social workers believe need to be done in order to improve working conditions, and subsequently reduce stress and related outcomes.